Public Health is the Top Priority for Scotland’s Principles

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The Principles of Scotland’s 19 high education institutions- including the University of Stirling- have issued a joint statement confirming that public health remains their top priority as students return to campuses across the country.

With many universities starting in the next few weeks- Stirling started back on the 14th- the statement welcomes students and provides reassurance about the safe restart of teaching.

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Importantly, the message also highlights the shared responsibility of university communities in suppressing COVID-19 and praises students for their “incredible solidarity” in helping fight the virus.

It also reflects upon the hard work of staff over the summer break in helping to put in place plans that will deliver teaching this semester while keeping people safe.

Professor Gerry McCormac, Principle and Vice- Chancellor of the University of Stirling, is the Convener of Universities Scotland.

He said: “Its vital to our university communities that we can safely welcome new and returning students to the start of the new academic year.

“Students have experienced so much disruption and uncertainty over the last six months and have shared the hardship felt by all of society because of the pandemic.

“Students need to get on with their lives and their education in a safe, positive and constructive way, but the pandemic is still very much a reality.

“Universities have worked tirelessly to ensure everyone’s safety as we plan for the new academic year.

“We have taken all possible steps to create a safe and supportive environment in which students can make a phased return.

“It has been a huge undertaking, with substantial adaptions to courses, timetables, and to the physical and online spaces needed to support them and ensure public health guidance is implemented.

“The entire university community has been part of this planning process in every institution, up and down the country.”

Professor McCormac also said: “Universities were immensely proud to support the NHS, community health and the testing and research programmes from the beginning of the pandemic.

“Our staff and students were an integral part of that national effort. As a university community, we all feel a responsibility to follow the public health guidance and continue to protect and support each other and the wider communities of which we are part.”

The return of universities follows months of careful planning, close work with the Scottish Government, NHS and other relevant agencies to ensure compliance with the latest public health advice and guidelines.

Staff unions and student associations continue to be an integral part of the planning process.

During Stirling’s autumn semester, in line with the rest of the sector, there will be no large group teaching sessions on campus.

Instead, students will be taught online with some small group teaching on campus, for example for lab or practical skills work, where it is safe to do so.

In line with Scottish Government guidance, robust new and enhanced measures have been introduced across campus which will allow students to safely enjoy the Stirling experience, albeit in new and innovative ways.

Measures include the mandatory wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces, social distancing, the installation of hand sanitising stations, enhanced cleaning regimes and temperature checks.

In addition, all students, staff and visitors will be asked to scan into buildings each day, to support the NHS Scotland Test and Protect process, should contact tracing be required at any time.

The staff and student community is also asked to commit to the Stirling Campus Pledge, confirming that they will follow all appropriate measures and guidance to help minimise the risks posed by COVID-19 to themselves and others.

The Statement by the Principles and Vice Chancellors of Scotland’s universities and higher education institutions reads:

We are so pleased to be able to welcome every student, new or returning, to our universities. It is so important that you have the chance to continue your education and to take the next positive step into your future. We want you to receive the best possible education and to offer you a supportive and engaging student experience this year but our top priority as universities, in the midst of a pandemic, is to keep you and our staff safe and to contribute to keeping everyone else in our towns and cities, across Scotland as safe as possible. 

This is a shared responsibility. We’re still battling a pandemic. We all have an important part to play in supressing transmission of the virus. Students have shown incredible solidarity in fight against the pandemic and support for the most vulnerable. Students in health disciplines were amongst the first to offer to work on the NHS frontline, students made PPE when stocks were in short supply and volunteered in many community settings. 

We need the whole university community to continue to look out for each other, and for the wider community, in the every-day actions we take as we start a new academic year.

Staff in universities have worked incredibly hard from the early summer to plan for the new semester and adapt our approaches to teaching and our campuses to keep you safe. We will offer you the expertise of our teachers, researchers and student services through a mix of flexible and accessible routes. Student Associations and the sabbatical teams have been a valued partner in putting these plans in place and we’re very grateful for their energy and commitment. 

Campuses will look and feel different this term. With a blended approach to teaching in the first semester there will be fewer people on campus than usual and our spaces will be reconfigured to support physical distancing, enhanced hygiene protocols and the use of tech to support NHS Scotland’s Test and Protect contact tracing system. Students can support this further by downloading the NHS Scotland Protect Scotland contact tracing app.

As universities, we will continue to work tirelessly to deliver on our responsibilities to you, as our students, and to the wider communities we are proud to be a part of. We will continue to work closely with the Scottish Government and public health bodies to ensure we adhere to the latest guidance as needed. 

As students, we ask you to recognise the important role and responsibility that you have, on and off campus, to keep yourself, and the wider communities around you, safe from coronavirus. Please prioritise public health so we can ensure that the new academic year is a safe and satisfying experience for everyone.

Feature Image Credit: Daily Record

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